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Lagavulin 16

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Master Of Malts
Master Of Malts

Joined: 10 Apr 2012
Posts: 1401
Location: East Lothian

PostPosted: Tue May 29, 2012 5:12 pm    Post subject: Lagavulin 16 Reply with quote

Lagavulin is one of the archetypal Islay malts, generally revered equally with the other two Kildalton distilleries, Laphroaig and Ardbeg - the latter is perhaps the current darling of the writers and Internet forums, particularly its Uigeadail bottling. Personally I don't think that the Port Askaig distillery, Caol Ila gets enough credit and I would rate it as highly as Laphroaig. Diageo has been pushing out Caol Ila expressions since 2002 to take the pressure off the demand for Lagavulin (it is by far the largest of the Islay distilleries though most of its product still ends up in blends such as Johnnie Walker). It is also difficult to know which expressions to compare, the standard Laphroaig and Ardbeg offerings are only 10 years old whereas this is 16 years old. A 12 year old is available though this is cask strength and retails at more than the 16. I'll try not to get into the comparison debate too much but more on that later...

Opening the bottle and pouring the first dram I was surprised, disappointed even, not to instantly smell camp fires and ash. I distinctly recall being able to smell a dram of Laga from across a room. This was confirmed on nosing, the peat was not to the fore in the way I recalled though all the classic Lagavulin aromas were there in measure - vanilla, smoke, slight sweetness. The colour was the familiar Krugerrand gold and the legs were long. The taste, again, bore the signatures of the brand, creamy vanilla and sherry sweetness, drying into black tea however there was very little of the 'medicinal' quality to it and I was finding the reduced peat unsettling. This was most apparent to me in the finish which, while relatively long, didn't morph as much as I expected and was still slightly sweet at the end rather than burning out like a smoky cinder.

Checking Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2012 it seems he concurs. Re-tasting it for the first time in a few years he notes:

If anyone has noticed a slight change in Lagavulin, they would be right. The peat remains profound but much more delicate than before, while the oils appear to have receded. A different shape and weight dispersal for sure. But the sky-high quality remains just the same.

He gives it 95, two less than a review from yesteryear where he describes the peat as 'so thick you could stand a spoon in it'. I would go a little further and dock it some more points as, for me, the peat and iodine have always been an integral part of the character. Yes it is still a fantastic malt but it now clearly comes behind Laphroaig and Ardbeg in the 'peat monster' stakes. Overall I'd still take it over Laphroaig anyday and I will savour it for what it is but it makes me wonder if all that demand from Sweden and Japan has finally stretched the capacity a bit! Either way, what a shame!
"Whisky is liquid sunshine."
[George Bernard Shaw]
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Master Of Malts
Master Of Malts

Joined: 16 Jul 2010
Posts: 1703

PostPosted: Wed May 30, 2012 11:02 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I remember when I opened my first Lagavulin 16 (only two years ago now so presumably after it started undergoing those changes you talk about) the first thing that struck me was the 'barbecue' nose! Not sure of the amount of peat per se, but the effect was more powerful than that of a Laphroaig. I also find it a lot drier than both Laphroaig and Ardbeg, which perhaps brings out the smoke more. I have a new bottle waiting to be opened so it'll be interesting to see if it comes across as slightly weaker.

I would also agree on Caol Ila - it's an excellent no-nonsense peat fix, maybe not as complex as Lagavulin for example but very satisfying.
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